When I had the first opportunity to travel out of the country, I chose Spain, or rather, Spain chose me. I was in my mid-30’s, completely independent, at the precipice of changes in my food career and gushing with a sense of wonder at the fact that as a single, young woman, I could just hop on a plane and change the scenery and choose my next adventure. It was mind altering to say the least. I landed in Barcelona, and from the minute my gold sandals touched the ground, I knew Spain was where I was supposed to be. San Sebastian and the Basque region sealed the deal. Every place has it charm, but Spain was alluring, it teased the pent up passion and color out of me. It gave me permission to linger and meander and savor everything I’d dreamed of for myself and then all the more I never even knew I wanted. I have been back several times, but it never seems enough. It’s like meeting the person of your dreams and getting drunk on their essence and every minute you wonder how you ever existed without them.
While it’s been a few years since I’ve had the chance to go back, I can still find pleasure in Spanish food. I took several cooking classes during my visits and in one particular class, we learned how to make gazpacho. In Spain, tomatoes taste like tomatoes should and this shot of cold, creamy, tangy gazpacho with a ribbon of smoked Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese convinced me that cold soup can be a thing if it’s made to taste like heaven.
I like to think my version of gazpacho is much like my love affair with Spain–mesmerizing. I turn up the heat and slow roast the tomatoes with bits of pungent garlic. I add a shimmering drizzle of olive oil and a bite of tangy but sweet balsamic vinegar. When the juices co-mingle and cool, I blend the tomatoes with fresh, crisp celery and cucumber. As my homage to Spain, I also include a few smoky piquillo peppers and a generous splash of sherry vinegar. What takes a good gazpacho to great is chilling it to develop all the flavors. I promise, like most remarkable things in this life, it’s well worth the wait.
- 1.5 pounds ripe, but firm red tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup English cucumber (not peeled or seeded), roughly chopped
- ½ cup celery, diced
- ½ cup sweet yellow onion, diced
- ½ cup red bell pepper, diced
- ½ cup piquillo peppers
- 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (made from day old baguette)
- 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
- ½ cup vegetable stock
- Additional salt and white pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 325°. Halve tomatoes and place onto a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic. Drizzle with oil and vinegar. Place on the middle rack of the oven and slow roast for 1 hour. When done, let cool 10 minutes.
- Place a small chunk of day old baguette in the food processor or coarsely chop. Set aside.
- When tomatoes have cooled, add them to a food processor or blender. Add in cucumber, celery, onion, bell pepper, piquillo pepper, bread crumbs, vinegar and vegetable stock. Pulse on low until a course consistency is achieved. You don’t want the gazpacho too runny or too chunky like salsa. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Pour into a bowl and chill for at least 1 hour or more. Serve with additional diced bell pepper, piquillo pepper, celery and cucumber.
If you can't find piquillo peppers in a jar, roasted red peppers are a good substitute.